06/14/17 11:15am

Across and a little bit down the street from the site where the company proposes to tear down an already altered section of the River Oaks Shopping Center and erect a 29-story apartment tower with 2 floors of underground parking, Weingarten Realty has more plans to make changes to the landmark art deco center. At the corner of West Gray and McDuffie, the company wants to tear down the 2-story western end of the south half of the 1948 section of the shopping center — which now houses a California Pizza Kitchen and the remains of the Evolve Fitness Studio upstairs (and was previously the site of a Birraporetti’s with Sherlock’s Pub above it) — and reconstruct the section as a 12,730-sq.-ft. Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille with significantly taller first and second stories.

The design, by Chicago’s Aria Group Architects, “will maintain historical features” of the building at 1997 West Gray St., the submitted plans (PDF) explain. But not exactly in the same order. Stick-on stone facing was stuck onto lower portions of this section of the art deco structure in 2007 when it was given a new stucco-batter coating and turned into a CPK; the new design shows a tall curved panel of limestone wrapping the corner, but this time on the higher second floor, suspended above a rebuilt portion of the center’s signature curved soffit.

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Raising Perry’s Steakhouse
06/13/17 4:30pm

In advance of a public hearing scheduled for this Thursday, Weingarten Realty has submitted these drawings of the 29-story apartment tower it’s calling the Driscoll, and which it’s proposing to build across the from the northern end of Driscoll St. The site at 1958 W. Gray also happens to be occupied currently by the eastern end of the 69-year-old northern portion of the River Oaks Shopping Center, which has city historic landmark status despite the numerous inconsistent alterations Weingarten has made to the Art Deco complex over the years. As suggested by the included diagram above, the tower will knock out most of one wing of the complex, leaving Brasserie 19 in place, but deleting 18,000 sq. ft. of space currently housing Café Ginger, Local Pour, and some office space above — as well as 2-and-a-half bays of parking to the east.

As part of its package for the required hearing before the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission, Weingarten presented this photographic evidence in support of its claim that its existing property, which it altered significantly during renovations conducted in 2011, is in a “deteriorated state“:

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Here Comes the Driscoll
06/12/17 11:15am

HOUSTON’S PREMIER FLOATING TOURIST ATTRACTION SHUT DOWN AGAIN AFTER MORE LEAKS 6-by-8-in. hole 15 inches below the water line discovered yesterday on the starboard side of the Battleship Texas caused the San Jacinto Battleground tourist attraction to tilt a “pretty serious” 6 degrees overnight, KPRC’s Cathy Hernandez reports this morning. The battleship — which was built long after the Battle of San Jacinto, but is a veteran of 2 world wars and a whole lot of 21st Century rust — has now been closed to the public until further notice. At last report, approximately 2,000 gallons of water per minute had been pumped out of the ship for more than 15 hours. Funds originally allocated to move the retired sea vessel to a dry berth were used instead to repair previous leaks. [Click2Houston; Texas Parks & Wildlife; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Coast Guard News [license]  

03/28/17 2:30pm

2309 Wichita St., Riverside Terrace, Houston

The Chron’s Craig Hlavaty reports from the scene of still-ongoing renovations to the bedecked and multi-turreted home at 2309 Wichita St., better known as the castle-like former duplex, orphanage, and daycare facility in Riverside Terrace that former owner and VA nurse Charles Fondow spent 31-odd years renovating and expanding as his own quirky residence, inspired by his sightseeing travels in Russia and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Fondow died in 2011, his life’s work incomplete. New owner Nick Ugarov, who picked up the property from a bank sale in 2014, has continued Fondow’s legacy with a multi-year renovation project of his own:

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Almost Done
02/03/17 1:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEREFORE ART THOU, ALABAMA THEATER? Olivia Hussey in Romeo and Juliet at the Alabama Theater, Upper Kirby, Houston“My elementary school class (can’t remember which grade) saw Romeo and Juliet there. The one with Olivia Hussey as Juliet. I remember the seats were velvet and rocked. If you kicked the seat in front of you really hard it sent the person’s popcorn flying for several rows.” [Tangyjoe, commenting on Former Alabama Theater’s Pastel Modernistic Forehead Browned Out]

08/30/16 11:15am

Allen brothers' Houston sales ad

It’s that time again — Houston’s birthday celebration, observed traditionally on the anniversary of the publication of the Allen brothers’ newspaper ads offering land for sale in the area in 1836. Among the more eyebrow-worthy claims put forward by the founders: that the “beautifully-elevated” area (depicted nestled amid a clutch of towering hills) was already the site of regular steamboat traffic (the Laura wouldn’t make the first steamboat run up the sandy twists of Buffalo Bayou to Allen’s Landing until the following year), and that the area “[enjoys] the sea breeze in all its freshness” and is “well-watered” (that part, at least, is likely undisputed).

The ad text also claims that “Nature appears to have designated this place for the future seat of Government,” though Lisa Gray suggests this morning that a few well-timed gifts to members of the newly-minted Texas Legislature may have been responsible as well. Gray writes that the city hosted the Texas government from 1837 until the legislators, tired of the heat and mosquitoes, voted to move elsewhere in 1839.

Here’s the ad in its entirety, as it appeared 180 years ago today in the Telegraph and Texas Register:

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And Many More
03/08/16 2:30pm

Renovation of Sunset Coffee Building at Allen's Landing, Downtown, Houston, 77002

A shiny new cistern is now in place at the former Sunset Coffee building at Allen’s Landing, which Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Houston First have been redeveloping into an office-topped boat-and-bike-rental spot.  The 1910 coffee roasting facility has once again donned walls after moving past a Summer 2014 minimalist phase, and is currently decked out in a muted Café du Monde orange.

The no-longer-see-through structure is back to limiting the view from the Harris County Jail across the bayou (visible on the far right, above). A set of stairs are in place alongside the new cistern, along with railings around what appears to be the planned rooftop terrace.

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Nearing Launch at Allen’s Landing
03/08/16 10:00am

TREE PROFESSIONALS: PECAN AT 509 LOUISIANA ST. WOULD HAVE JUST DIED ANYWAY Pecan Tree formerly at 509 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002The pecan tree formerly behind the former Longhorn Cafe on Louisiana St. is down at last, following the 100-plus-year-old buildings at 509 and 517 Louisiana into that Great Big Preservation District in the Sky. Nancy Sarnoff of the Houston Chronicle reports that 2 arborists were called in to examine the tree, and pronounced it dead-or-close-enough: Lauren Lusk Willis, a member of the family that owns the next-door Lancaster Hotel, told the Chronicle that a lightning strike had damaged the tree, and that its core was rotting. Willis said that the pecan “would not likely have survived the leveling of the lot for any construction,” and that “ultimately, it wouldn’t have survived regardless.” The tree, haunted by a both-Sam-and-city-of Houston ghost story, was long visible only to those who entered 509 Louisiana’s hidden courtyard, until the pecan’s 2001 outing by the demo of the Rice Rittenhouse parking garage; it went back into hiding by the end of 2003 with the help of 33-story Calpine Center. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of the pecan tree, following demolition of 509 Louisiana St.: KineticD

03/04/16 1:00pm

Whitewashed Obama Mural, Travis St. and West Alabama, Midtown, HoustonNew Reginald Adams' Mural of President Obama, Travis St. and West Alabama, Midtown, HoustonAs polling dates roll through the country, the oft-transformed mural outside of the former Obama campaign headquarters in Midtown has been spotted sporting a fresh coat of background white. Allyn West, who first noticed the political banner’s changed stripes on Super Tuesday, sends this Disillusioned Thursday snapshot of the now-blanked wall. So far, the site has featured various incarnations of Obama: in the sky-gazing HOPE poster from Shephard Fairey, in a sunglassed hip-with-the-kids pose, and most recently in the above star-spangled baby-on-banner scene that first appeared in 2013.

The past murals have been the subject of political displeasure for at least one person, judging by 2 previous acts of similarly-angled paint vandalism:

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State of the Mural
02/26/16 10:15am

Mecom Fountain, Main at Montrose, Museum District, Houston, 77006

A group called Friends of the Fountain has started an online campaign to raise $60,000 for reversing the recently-halted-after-all changes to the Mecom Fountain, at the roundabout confluence of Main St. and Montrose Blvd. near the entrance to Hermann Park. The group’s crowdfunding page says the money will be used to remove the limestone panels recently screwed around the concrete wall of the 1964 modernist fountain’s elliptical main basin, as well as to repair the concrete and to repaint. A member of Mayor Turner’s transition committee involved with the project also tells Swamplot this morning that around $25,000 of those funds will replace the grant money spent to add the panels in the first place.

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In Reverse at the Roundabout
01/22/16 11:30am

CELEBRATING LAURA DAY, AND THE CON THAT MADE THE CITY Packet steamer LauraOn this day in 1837 — according to Houstorian, Houston’s “loudest preservation group” — the packet steamer Laura shoved its way up Buffalo Bayou through sand bars and tortuous snags to Allen’s Landing in what is now Downtown Houston. The trip proved publicly for the first time that such a voyage was actually possible, though the Allen Brothers had already been promising as much to investors for months in their “highly exaggerated” advertisements of the new town. Houstorian teamed up with the Bayou Preservation Association last night to celebrate the grand con’s success; the now-annual Laura Day event took place this year at Public Services Wine & Whisky, housed in the 1884 Cotton Exchange Building at the corner of Travis and Franklin — just a few blocks west of the Laura’s purported landing site at the foot of Main St. [Houstorian] Historic photo of the steamship Laura: Houstorian

01/19/16 12:30pm

UT Houston Campus Site, Buffalo Lakes, Houston

The deal is sealed on the University of Texas’s purchase of a 100-acre hunk of land south of South Main St. as of last Friday. The sale marks the first concrete move toward UT’s planned Houston campus, though closings on the parcel patchwork comprising the rest of the 300-ish ac. likely won’t wrap up until early 2017, according to a press release from the school’s Office of Public Affairs.

The sold land is a forested tract northwest of the wiggly intersection of Willowbend Dr. and Buffalo Spdwy.; the property is split along a northwest-southeast diagonal by a linear drainage feature which makes an appearance in those preliminary campus designs (shown from the north in the image above).

That land was owned previously by Buffalo Lakes Ltd., an entity associated with UT grad John Kirksey of Kirksey Architecture. A plan for a Buffalo Lakes master-planned community (see below) was drawn up more than 4 years ago by Kirksey for the same space:

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South Main Master Plans
01/13/16 4:00pm

Renderings of Houston Botanic Garden at Glenbrook Park Golf Course, Glenbrook Valley, Houston, 77017

Bright and shiny renderings from the recently-released master plan for the Houston Botanic Garden show that design firm West 8 is aware of the challenges involved in straddling a world-class park across Sims Bayou, on the site of Glenbrook Park Golf Course just across I-45 north of Hobby Airport.  The Dutch firm, known internationally for unusual bridges and unconventional landscape design, has planned for many of the Garden’s displays to flood at will; the shores of Sims Bayou on the Garden’s property will also be resculpted. And to combat Houston’s just-shy-of-year-round heat, shade trees would be preserved or planted throughout the park, including the towering cypresses depicted in the bayou-side wetland gardens shown above (parts of which will be explorable by kayak).

Meanwhile, the more formal garden spaces planned for the park are shown with their own built-in shade (complete with custom ceiling fans): Colonnade structures (like the ones picture below) will ring each of the major collection gardens, which are designed to be “entered, enjoyed, and contemplated from the comfort of the shaded perimeter”:

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Glenbrook Valley Garden
01/12/16 3:45pm

Demolition of 517 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Time to bid adieu to 2 more of downtown’s oldest buildings: readers sent both sky-high and excavator-side photos of yesterday’s teardown work at 517 Louisiana St., and 509 is permitted to follow). According to the building’s owners, the next-door Lancaster Hotel’s parking crunch is the reason the 2 1906 Theater District neighbors will meet their flattened fates, along with a long-hidden pecan tree that shades a once-secret courtyard at 509. Taking their place: a surface lot for 50 cars — and, maybe, one day, an expansion to the hotel.

517’s transformation to empty space was complete by the end of the day yesterday:

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Coming Down in Downtown
12/15/15 10:00am

Deluxe Theater, 3303 Lyons Ave, Fifth Ward, 77020

No fewer than 11 pairs of scissors reached to cut the ribbon in front of Fifth Ward’s DeLuxe Theater at 3303 Lyons Ave. as it formally reopened yesterday. The 1941 movie-theater-briefly-turned-art-gallery, which has sat empty since 1973, will now host plays, classes, and other community and art events put on by Texas Southern University; TSU jazz students performed at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The original facade and marquee have been restored and updated:

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